Starring (voices): Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs, Gina Rodriguez, Amanda Seyfried, Zac Efron, Kiersey Clemons, Ken Jeong, Tracy Morgan and Frank Welker
Rating: PG, for mild suggestive humor and fantasy peril
By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic
Scooby-Doo, the nervous Great Dane with a nose for supernatural-style trouble — and a manner of “speaking” borrowed from Astro, on “The Jetsons” — has covered an amazing amount of territory since solving his first case back on Sept. 13, 1969.
The character and his human sidekicks have never not been ubiquitous on television, thanks to well over a dozen variations on their initial 17-episode run … not to mention numerous direct-to-video films and several (mostly) live-action entries.
It’s safe to say that Scooby-Doo has eclipsed Rin Tin Tin and Lassie as the world’s most famous canine screen hero. (No accident, these days, that we refer to a crime-solving detective’s posse as a “Scooby gang.”)
Director Tony Cervone’s “Scoob,” debuting on HBO Max and other video-on-demand platforms, is guaranteed to keep the lovable pooch vibrant for additional years to come.
Cervone’s pacing frequently has the frantic intensity of classic Warner Bros. cartoons, and the script — credited to no fewer than six hands — definitely captures the original Scooby vibe, while inserting snarky asides and droll one-liners that’ll keep adults equally entertained. The voice talent is solid, and longtime Saturday morning cartoon fans will have fun spotting all the supporting characters borrowed from other Hanna-Barbera shows.
The film is littered with additional Hanna-Barbera “Easter eggs”; you’ll want to pay careful attention to billboards and street signs.
“Scoob” also serves as an origin story, of sorts, with a lengthy prologue that shows how a clumsy puppy with hilariously oversized paws chances to meet 10-year-old Shaggy Rogers at California’s Venice Beach. Of course, they bond over a shared sandwich, and thereafter become inseparable best buds.
Halloween arrives shortly thereafter, at which point Shaggy and Scoob meet up with Daphne, Velma and Fred. During a pell-mell attempt to retrieve Shaggy’s bag of Halloween candy from a supposedly haunted house — with Scoob hindering and much as helping — the quintet exposes the actual culprit behind these faux scary doings.
(That’s key; classic Scooby-Doo adventures always seemed to involve dire supernatural events, ultimately revealed — after all manner of pratfalls and red herrings — to be the work of decidedly Earthbound human baddies.)
Flash-forward to the present day, with the quintet enjoying a successful debunking career as Mystery Inc., roaring from one adventure to another in a turquoise and acid green van dubbed the Mystery Machine. This darn-near indestructible vehicle may look like its 1969 antecedent, but the interior is Velma’s pride and job: a mobile crime-solving lab and digital database with a satellite hookup and cutting-edge electronic surveillance equipment.
Ah, Velma. At a time when most female characters were either victims or dim bulbs, “Scooby-Doo” was decades ahead of its time. Velma was smart, confident and resourceful: the true brains of the outfit, and a terrific role model for young female viewers.
While Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Velma (Gina Rodriguez) seek questionable advice on how best to promote Mystery Inc., Shaggy (Will Rogers) and Scoob (Frank Welker) enjoy a few rounds of bowling. This frivolous activity turns perilous when the pins prove to be little transformative robots — the “Rottens” — that like to change into menacing, pointy-sharp things.
All seems lost, until Shaggy and Scoob are unexpectedly whooshed aloft by a luminescent blue tractor beam, and deposited inside a way-cool spaceship belonging to their favorite TV hero of all time, the Blue Falcon. Except that it turns out the iconic costume now is being worn by the original Falcon’s less capable son, Brian (Mark Wahlberg), whose confident bro-bluster can’t quite mask his insecurities.
Brian has maintained his father’s rep only due to assistance from über-capable pilot Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons) and their precision-engineered robotic dog, Dynomutt (Ken Jeong). The latter, speaking with the cultivated cadence of a British butler, clearly suffers the efforts of his lesser human companions out of loyalty, rather than actual respect; his heavenward gazes and long-suffering sighs become one of this film’s many droll running gags.
It turns out the Rottens are being controlled by the infamously ill-tempered, grudge-bearing, venom-spewing Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), an evil scientist and all-around bad guy who’s the first to admit that he’s, well, a real Dick. Dastardly has been jetting around the world in an effort to find three unusual artifacts, in service of a megalomaniacal scheme that also requires the participation of none other than Scooby-Doo.
(Dastardly — clearly modeled on Snidely Whiplash, archenemy of “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties” — was the forever put-upon villain in Hanna-Barbera’s “Wacky Races.” Dastardly’s fuzzy canine sidekick, Muttley — with his wheezing, snickering chuckle — also pops up here.)
All manner of subsequent skirmishes pit our eight good guys against Dastardly and his seemingly limitless army of Rottens (whose not-quite-reliable antics are modeled, perhaps too closely, on the beloved Minions from the “Despicable Me” franchise). The plot charges merrily through various victories and setbacks; Cervone and editors Ryan Folsey and Vanara Taing keep everything lively during the film’s fast-paced 93 minutes.
The story also has an all-important emotional core, which explores the nature of loyalty and true friendship, and how the ephemeral rush of “status” can blind one — even a dog — to what’s truly meaningful in life.
The only detour that feels contrived is the third-act appearance of Captain Caveman, the “Neanderthal lost in time” who wields a magical club. Although Tracy Morgan is his usual manic self while voicing this tiny terror, the character doesn’t bring anything to the party.
Forte supplies just the right blend of insecurity and reckless bravery to Shaggy, and Seyfried grants Daphne more warmth, sweetness and determination than the character possessed, back in the day. (Daphne, alas, too frequently was under-written.) Efron, in turn, has fun with dialog that takes good-natured pokes at Fred’s image of himself as a somewhat vain jock.
Rodriguez and Clemons are smart, self-assured and mildly sassy as Velma and Dee Dee; there’s no question that the team couldn’t survive without their intelligence and calm resourcefulness.
The film’s animation style, pleasantly “soft” and rounded, makes the razor-wielding Rottens even more formidable. Production designer Michael Kurinsky’s palette is vibrant, lush and vividly colorful; one almost needs sunglasses at times.
All manner of cameo voices pop up in fleeting roles: among them Henry Winkler, Christina Hendricks, Ira Glass and Simon Cowell (the latter as, well, Simon Cowell).
My one objection is that Welker grants Scoob too much speaking ability; he has become a true talking dog, which somewhat violates the word-mangling spirit of his original concept. That said, Welker — who has voiced the plucky pup since 2002 — certainly has the deep, throaty timbre that Don Messick gave the character for three decades and change.
“Scoob” is a lot of fun. It’s also quite “busy” and chock-a-block with sight gags and one-liners; you’ll likely need a second viewing to catch many of them.
Which certainly won’t be a chore.
— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.hkxms.cn.ShareTweet